“Fuck off!” flew from ten-year-old as if it was an old friend and Maksim winched, but where he was a grownup and couldn’t say it without being declared danger to society, then Ergo had no such limits. “I have brothers!”
Maksim let out a silent thank you – it wasn’t directed at Levi.
“That’s enough!” Levi intervened. “Hogan?”
“I’ll take the testimony from him.” The other policeman said to the shopkeeper.
Levi saw him standing on the edge of the crowd and pushed Ergo towards him. “Hold him!” He ordered and didn’t wait for him to grab his hand, taking hold of Harry instead. Then he went past them, through the crowd that obediently separated to accommodate the law enforcement. Ergo stared up at him, pleading for Maksim to believe him, but right now, aside giving his hand an assuring squeeze that he’ll not let go of him, there was little he could do before knowing facts. Alik stayed behind, disappearing into the closing mass of people and he lost sight of him, but knowing his brother, he was probably sticking around the shopkeeper to get insight of the situation. First time in his life, he trusted his brother to have his back.
Meanwhile, Tessa had taken over watching the sleeping kids and huddled the rest of them on the picnic blanket. Jevgeni had sat by the heads of the sleeping boys and Anton offered him his back to lean on, their worried, but silent eyes following the convoy of him and the policeman in front of them. Petro rose, seeing the other boy. His tiny fingers went into fists he pressed against his sides and he knit his eyebrows so tight, Maksim knew this wasn’t the first time the boys had met.
He jolted his eyes back on the boy by his arm and then on Harry making innocent faces to Levi. Their eyes met and he watched Ergo’s irises shrink before he blushed hard and turned away. So it had been their gang beating them up when they neatly sidetracked him with the smoking problem. And he had let them, he concluded with sour taste in his mouth.
Laura hurried their way. Her eyes met with Levi’s and they greeted before she lined up with Maksim.
“What happened?” She asked quietly, her left hand absentmindedly playing with the with the seven cowrie shell bracelet. This wasn’t the kind of situation, where he could just reach out and tell her it would be OK. It was one thing to allow others to speculate about his interests, totally other to confirm them. It would do nothing good to either of them. So he watched as her nails clawed under the bracelet and chewed through the leather. It looked worn out, but the leather strips looked new.
“I’m not sure.”
He wanted to shout louder than anyone that Ergo was innocent, but remembering how easily he was swayed by boys from finding out, who had used their fists on them, he couldn’t bring himself to voice it. Not because he hadn’t seen it, but because he couldn’t swear on it. Then again, the look Ergo sent his way left him no doubt. But he still needed evidence.
“Alright,” Levi stopped as they reached the police car parked nearby the gate, “I want you to explain to me again, slowly, what happened?”
Harry let out a loud sigh, which might have worked on his old man, but not on Levi, who let him go to take his notebook and waited patiently until he was done with his charade. He didn’t seem to be in good mood.
“I told you already! I was standing in the line behind him,” he pointed at Ergo, and saw how he tried to use the moment the shopkeeper wasn’t looking and reached for the money box! I snapped his hand away!”
“I heard you the first time.” Levi said calmly, jotting down the information. He looked up, at Ergo. “Your turn.”
“He’s lying.” Ergo repeated stubbornly and tried to pull himself free. Maksim held on, but that was all the boy said.
“Do you have any proof?” Laura asked and Levi shot her a glance saying he was the one asking the questions, but then turned his attention on the boy with a raised eyebrow, waiting for his response.
“I got the statement.” Hogan appeared behind them and waved the notebook together with a bag containing the small red box.
Maksim groaned inwardly, imagining how this could easily end up if –
“Yeah,” Ergo’s voice fell low and her odd grin turned to Laura’s direction, “I never touched the box!”
Alik, who was coming right behind the policeman looked grimmer though. This would still prove nothing, but it was a start. Especially if Harry’s angel face turned sour on the news like it did now.
“I’ll take your statements at home with your parents at present.” Levi said automatically and Harry nodded, a bit too stiff when his father was brought into the picture.
“Necromancy is a common thing here?” She asked with no shyness.
Levi looked up, slightly confused before he recalled what he’d just said and turned red. “Alice isn’t available today, she won’t be back before midnight, so I’ll come to your place tomorrow, is that ok?”
Laura nodded, letting the stupid sentence go, but Maksim felt irked. “Why would we need Alice?” He asked, really not getting why they’d need a social worker.
“Because she is his official custodian.”
“What? Why?” He really didn’t get it. Ergo’s hand slipped out of his and while the grownups were busy glaring daggers into his not at all functioning brain, he stood by Laura and latched on her jeans.
“We’ll see you tomorrow then.” Laura said simply, her voice oddly strained while howling Ergo up and walking back towards others.
Then it hit him and he let out a loud groan, palming his face. God, he was so stupid sometimes!